The Shapeshifting Detective is a full motion video game, meaning every scene is filmed with actual actors. You have to uncover one or more murders in the city of August over the course an evening. The game has Twin Peaks vibes with some Lovecraftian flavor on top. Multiple playthroughs are encourage because dialog choices do matter.
Starting to play The Shapeshifting Detective first feels like watching a TV series. Your first encounters with dialog boxes feel a bit awkward because full motion video games nowaydays are a very rare video game breed. Every interaction in each dialog is acted. You will talk to your interview partners vis-à-vis. When choosing your next dialog option the camera uses unusual side, top or low angles to convey emotions. Production quality and lighting for all dialogs is top notch.
You play as Sam, a shapeshifter who is tasked by the police chief of small town August to uncover a murder. You interview people and in the course of those interviews you get hints what to do, where to go and whom to interview next. The ability of “shapeshifting” can be used to interview people while taking the form of anyone you met before. That not only provides better insight but also provides the needed comical relief in an otherwise very dark and Lovecraftian story. Creating awkward situations by making unusual dialog lead to unexpected situations that that made me laugh out loud.
Not every character is acted strong but some actors did an amazing job. I fell in love with the character of Violet, the crazy red haired owner of the guesthouse, you stay in. Every dialog with her is pure joy because she is a malicious, psycho crazy person with unclear agenda. And I even found myself clapping multiple times because of her performance. The police chief is a lovely small town police chief cliche who is reasonable competent, full of prejudices but in the end not helpful. Meeting the always smiling Rayne the male part of the Tarot readers gave me real Twin Peaks vibes.
For me those vibes were present through the entire story. Just like Twin Peaks you have to uncover a murder, or maybe two. The more you uncover, the more people you talk to, the stranger everything gets. The brooding music and the omnipresent distorted radio reinforce this strange feeling of uneasiness. Choices you make during your interview will result in different directions and endings of the story. A single playthrough is just about 2 hours long but multiple playthroughs with brave dialog choices are encouraged.
I had one minor annoyance with the game mechanics. While clicking dialog boxes and using a cab to travel between different places is straightforward the shapeshifting is not introduced properly. You can only shapeshift in your room into people you have met before. Once learnt it is easy to use but I stumble over this only chapter 2.
Overall Shapeshifting Detective was extremely enjoyable. The setting is great, the sound spot on, the story unsettlingly good and the actors really enjoyable. Having rewards for multiple playthroughs in the form for story twists makes the game even more fun to play. Wholeheartedly double thumbs up from me.